North Korea takes watching foreign content very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that it is punishing a man who smuggled South Korean Netflix series Squid Game into the country with death.
A group of high school students who purchased the series on a USB drive are facing grave punishments as well.
Business Insider cited a report released by Radio Free Asia (RFA), a US government-funded nonprofit news service serving audiences in Asia, that says a man has been sentenced to death for smuggling the global hit Squid Game across borders. The sentence is to be carried out by firing squad.
The crime was detected by censors in the area when the high school student who bought the smuggled copy watched it with his friends at school. The student who bought the USB drive received a life sentence, while six others have been sentenced to five years of hard labour. This is the first time the North Korean government has applied a recently passed law that penalises the distribution, watching, or keeping of media from capitalist countries on minors.
Not only were the smuggler and the students punished, the authorities also fired the teachers and school administrators, sending them away to remote areas for mine work. They justified the move by saying that the students’ education was being neglected, a source told the RFA.
In the aftermath of the students getting caught, authorities began searching for memory storage devices storing foreign media, sending the residents into a state of anxiety, especially after the hearing about the severity of the punishment.
Squid Game, a show based on hundreds of financially constrained citizens competing with their lives at risk for money, is Netflix’s most watched show ever and has garnered worldwide acclaim. Sources in the RFA report claim that the depiction of the dystopian world in Squid Game resonates with North Koreans who too are in risky occupations, struggling to earn money to support themselves.
The character in the show who fled North Korea encouraging others to behave in the same way is also a cause for concern for the North Korean government. An August 2019 Washington Post report documented how certain South Korean media is considered dangerous by North Korean authorities because they encourage people to escape.
This fear is backed by the Washington Post report — it also attached a survey of 200 North Korean escapees living in South Korea, in which 90 percent said they consumed foreign media while living in the North. The power of media is real, which is why media is censored in the country.